Co-Sleeping, Should You Share A Bed With Your Infant/Toddler?
There is confusion around what is considered co-sleeping. The definition of co-sleeping is when parents or caregivers sleep in the same room as their children. Bed-sharing falls under co-sleeping, however, the difference between co-sleeping and bed-sharing is bed-sharing is when a parent(s) and child share the same bed in the same room. Co-sleeping is a common practice in many countries except for western countries, especially the U.S. where were different types of co-sleeping is practiced; this is dependent on the ethnicity or personal beliefs of the infant/toddler’s parent(s). In developed countries, parents and experts often disagree on sleeping arrangements for infants/toddlers. Some experts propose infants ought to sleep separately from their caregiver(s) but should remain in the same room until age 1 or bed-share with their caregivers to help mature the infant’s homeostatic regulatory systems (Mao et al, 2014, p.1). Others propose infants should sleep in their own room decrease infant’s dependency on caregivers. Based on the knowledge gained from taking a course on Human Development, it appears that the best co-sleeping arrangement for an infant is sleeping in a bedside crib because it reduces an infant’s chance of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and allows easy accessibility for parents.
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There are many benefits to co-sleeping. A benefit of co-sleeping with an infant the reduction of separation anxiety between the mother and child. Normally when an infant is in a separate room, it forces the mother to have to continually check on the infant throughout the night because either the infant is constantly crying due to discomfort, hunger because of separation anxiety. With co-sleeping separation anxiety is reduced and it helps promote breastfeeding because of how close the infant to the mother. Aside from this, co-sleeping is convenient for parents. It makes taking care of an infant easier during the night easier and makes it easier for parents to have an adequate amount of sleep because the infant is easily accessible, equating to shorter time spent on calming down a crying infant. Along with convenience, co-sleeping promotes skin to skin contact which is important for the development of an infant along with bonding with parents.
The major types of sleeping arrangements used by parents in the U.S include bed-sharing with infant and parent(s), attachment of crib to parent(s) bed, having a baby in a standalone crib in parent(s) room, or having an infant in their own room. Each type of sleeping arrangement has its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage for bed-sharing with an infant is how easy breastfeeding becomes for the mother because she can respond quickly to the infant. As mentioned before, having the infant nearby is more of a convenience for the mother and gives the infant more opportunities to be breastfed. However, a disadvantage for this co-sleeping arrangement is how easy it is for a parent to doze off, making them inattentive to the infant which could possibly lead to the infant being injured. An advantage to bedside cribs is the reduced risk of SIDS due to the reduction of an infant being accidentally rolled on by parents. The same applies to standalone cribs in the parent’s room. All co-sleeping arrangements have disadvantages such as infant being exposed to smoke, especially if parents are smokers, increased risk of suffocation especially if parents are heavily medicated or drunk from drinking alcohol, and overheating due to the body temperature of parents.
In the United States, there are diverse populations that use different co-sleeping arrangements for infants. Cultural traditions play a part in co-sleeping arrangements. From hearing the stories told by my parents—both identify as Africans—I shared a bed with them until I was 3 years old; at 3 I was placed in my own room. According to my parents, I did not have a difficult time adjusting to having my own room. The reason for bed-sharing with me was strictly based on their cultural practices. Children in my parents’ culture never slept in a crib when they were infants, rather they bed-shared with the mother or both parents to ensure that child was safe. Most of the time the infant is placed on the mother or father’s chest or put in the center of the bed supine between the parents. Having me nearby made it easy for my parents to make sure I slept well and was breathing regularly. However, the practice of co-sleeping arrangements differs within ethnicities, which is especially evident in the U.S. For instance, African American and Hispanic families tend to bed-share with their infants due to cultural traditions while Caucasian families tend to practice other co-sleeping arrangements—i.e. beside crib or standalone crib in parent(s) room—as a result of their infants’ sleeping issues (Mao et al, 2004, p. 2).
Because cultural traditions have an impact in co-sleeping arrangement, it is difficult for researchers to endorse or disapprove co-sleeping with infants without having biases. Some biases that arise from disapproving of co-sleeping with infants aside from cultural traditions include is the assumption that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), increased of dependence of child on parents, lack of boundaries between child and parent are all associated with bed-sharing. For one, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is against bed-sharing with an infant due its strong correlation with SIDS; it is assumed that bed-sharing increases the risk factors that causes SIDS, some of these include; airway obstruction, head covering exposure to smoke, etc. Bed-sharing can possibly cause these risk factors that lead to SIDS but to say that bed-sharing causes SIDS, which is not totally true. There is research that proves that the smoking status of the parent(s) of an infant has a bigger effect on causing SIDS, especially when paired with bed-sharing (Das et al, 2014, p. 14). To assume a child will become more dependent on his/her parents because of co-sleeping is also biased as well. Many factors play to a children’s dependency on their parents. Co-sleeping does not have the greatest effect on a child’s dependency on his/her parents in the long run.
Though experts discuss the effects of bed-sharing on infants, little is mentioned about the effects bed-sharing has on toddlers. In a study by Barajas and colleagues, a longitudinal study was conducted on 944 low-income families who had children at ages 1,2,3, and 5 years. In their results they found general for toddlers’ bed-sharing between ages 1-3 years were bivariately associated with poorer behavior and cognition at age 5 years (Barajas et al, 2011, p. 343-345). Also, they concluded that the significance they found became insignificant when sociodemographic characteristics (i.e. age, education, race, ethnicity socioeconomic status) where controlled. This shows how the sociodemographic characteristics of the caregiver can have a positive or negative effect on the sleeping arrangements of an infant or toddler. If families in this study had access to other co-sleeping arrangements, such as a bedside or standalone crib, they would have possibly used these co-sleeping arrangements over bed sharing, especially for toddlers.
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If I were to have a child, I will to co-sleep for the first 2 years of my child’s life. The reason I will do this is to continue the cultural tradition I was raised with from my parents. I am personally not a fan of bed-sharing because of the many risks attached to it, I will, however, have my child sleep bedside crib and eventually to a standalone crib when they are a couple months older. Once my child is 2 years, I will have him/her sleep in a separate room to ensure that my being to learn how to sleep in his/her own space. However, plans can change. For example, if I were to have a premature or low birthweight baby, I will not co-sleep for the first 6 to 7 months in order to decrease the chances of my child dying from SIDS. Also, if I were to have a baby that constantly cries at night, at some point, I will grow tired getting up to pick up a baby from a crib, putting the baby back in the crib and going back to bed, and possibly repeating the same thing over and over again. Because I know this, even though I am opposed to bed-sharing I might succumb to pressure and given in. I might give in because bed-sharing, especially with an infant makes the comforting process easier on the parents; it allows parents to stay in bed longer and would encourage more breastfeeding, especially if the reason the infant woke up crying was because he/she was hungry. In general, co-sleeping encourages breastfeeding more, which helps protect infants from ailments including SIDS.
Overall, I would recommend parents to co-sleep with infants and toddlers up until age 2 years. However, bed-sharing should be limited, and bedside cribs should be used for infants. This promotes breastfeeding without the risk of putting the infant in danger of SIDS. However, when a child becomes a toddler, I would recommend using a crib in the same room as parents or having a child sleep in a separate room, not far away from parents. This gives the toddler a chance to learn how to be on their own.
- Barajas, R. G., Martin, A., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Hale, L. (2011). Mother-child bed-sharing in toddlerhood and cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Pediatrics, 128(2), e339–e347.doi:10.1542/peds.2010-3300.
- Das, R. R., Sankar, M. J., Agarwal, R., & Paul, V. K. (2014). Is "Bed Sharing" Beneficial and Safe during Infancy? A Systematic Review. International journal of pediatrics, 2014, 468538. doi:10.1155/2014/468538.
- Mao, A., Burnham, M. M., Goodlin-Jones, B. L., Gaylor, E. E., & Anders, T. F. (2004). A comparison of the sleep-wake patterns of co-sleeping and solitary-sleeping infants. Child psychiatry and human development, 35(2), 95–105. doi:10.1007/s10578-004-1879-0
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